The management team at Trebah are determined to work with all interested parties and organisations with interests in and around the Helford River. We have recently received from them the following proposal for securing Trebah beach, improving access and securing the route of the South West Coast Path.
Trebah is unique among Cornwall’s major visitor attractions in having its own beach which opens onto the beautiful Helford River, acting as both an important amenity asset for its visitors as well as helping to protect the bottom of this important garden. However the tranquil setting belies its remarkable heritage as the most westerly embarkation beach for the US Forces prior to D-Day.
Securing the beach
The US Forces constructed their embarkation site at Trebah prior to D-Day by building a concrete retaining groyne down the exposed (south-east facing) side of the beach and driving in sheet metal piling across the bottom of the beach below the low tide mark. They then overlaid the beach with a concrete apron, using it in early June 1944 to load 7,500 men of the US 29th Division on to Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs), with all their equipment, vehicles and tanks.
After the war the concrete apron was removed, but the concrete groyne and sheet piling were left in place, and a narrow slipway was added alongside the groyne. The beach is very vulnerable to south-easterly storms, and the groyne, slipway and sheet piling together help to retain a significant depth of sand and shingle. This beach material provides a significant line of defence to the bottom of the garden and the fresh-water lake, which would probably otherwise have been breached by recent storms.
However these storms have undermined the slipway and seriously weakened its fabric, and it is now in a dangerous state. Further storms will inevitably hasten its break-up, leading to erosion of the beach with consequent damage to the garden.
The proposed works will retain the original concrete groyne, but remove the damaged slipway, and reinstate with a new concrete structure of the same dimensions. This should provide the garden with long-term protection from coastal erosion.
The public coastal path runs between the beach and the garden, and to get onto the beach, visitors to Trebah have to negotiate a steep and narrow flight of steps which takes them over the coastal path. This effectively prevents access to the beach to anyone with limited mobility, and also presents difficulties for many of its older visitors and for those with young families.
A number of options to improve access have been considered, but only one would satisfy the conditions of being fully accessible and visually unobtrusive. Currently the coastal path from the east descends to beach level before running behind the boathouse, where it passes under the bridge taking garden visitors to the beach. The proposed new route would keep the coastal path at a high level along the rear of the boathouse, before descending down steps to rejoin the existing path, allowing a new level route connecting the garden and beach to be created to the side of the boathouse. An additional benefit is that there is a very vulnerable portion of the coastal path that is currently in danger of being lost to erosion; rerouting the coastal path would anticipate this event, and allow natural erosion to continue.
Photos by Colin Higgs